04 March 2004

POD Blues

Well, technically one doesn't get blues with POD, one gets a laser proof, but who's counting? Most good printers do a laser proof these days anyway for non-color books!

In any event, the POD vanity presses took a massive hit from a St. Louis jury yesterday, which determined that three of the largest vendors had infringed a 1995 patent on the POD process. You can find images of the jury verdict form at Bookmachine.com. Damages were fixed by the jury at $15 million— and the jury also determined that infringement was willful, which requires the judge to consider two even more expensive issues: whether to award attorney's fees to the prevailing plaintiff (the successor in interest to the late Harold Ross who obtained the patent), and whether to multiply the damages by a factor of up to three. Thus, the exposure is probably a round $50 million from this verdict, presuming that it stands.

That, however, is not a good assumption. The defending POD vanity presses—Ingram, LightningSource, and Amazon—will undoubtedly file a whole bunch of post-trial motions to have the verdict thrown out as against the weight of the evidence, as excessive, as insufficient in its finding of willful infringement, and then appeal any remaining adverse result to the Federal Circuit. I've read the judge's previous 46-page opinion that interprets the patent (patent interpretation is a matter of law for the judge; the jury decides whether the facts presented fall within that interpretation). I'm not entirely convinced; I expect that the Federal Circuit will knock out one significant part of the opinion and send it back for reconsideration and possible retrial. I doubt that the Federal Circuit will reverse and direct a finding of patent invalidity or noninfringement; but that is also a possible result.

The upshot of all this is that one can expect POD vanity presses to be raising their rates in the near future to compensate for their exposure.